‘Odysseys from Homer’ arises from bedtime ritual
• Jon Faulkner teams up with Aurora Firth in new childrens book.
By Naomi Klouda
A children’s book, “Odysseys from Homer,” has grown out of a father’s extemporaneous bedtime stories to his children and spins a resonate title-play on the classic of Homer’s Odyssey.
Jon Faulkner, owner of Land End’s Resort and two other Kenai Peninsula hotels, is also the author of a political thriller-mystery, “The Ghost of Fannie Guthry-Baehm.” Homer people will recall Faulkner’s run for the House District 30 seat this past election season.
The book comprises three stories: “The Ant and the Elephant,” “Island of the Horses” and “Freddie the Frog.” Illustrated by Aurora Firth, the national award-winning artist who designed several duck stamps used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the art complements the stories like a classic book of Aesop Fables or a Kipling’s collection.
“These are original oral and written stories that evolved from an oral tradition,” Faulkner said. “They are bedtime stories that I would spontaneously develop with the kids. They would say, ‘tell me the story about the island the and horses again.’ It evolved less for a community’s consumption than just documenting for posterity what is a family tradition.”
Author Jonathan Faulkner
Each story came from a subject matter developed and the children’s particular interests. Faulkner said the nightly ritual kept him on his toes, testing his storytelling ability. He said his older children, Katie, 24, Andrew, 22 and William, 21, didn’t benefit as much as the younger ones, Kristen, 19 and Nicholas, 15. The stories began to spin off from the persistent requests of the younger two about 15 years ago.
“Nicholas in particular loved the art of storytelling. It became a nightly event. I decided to make it a fun mental exercise as much as anything,” he said. “From there, once he left the house, the only way to preserve it was to write it down. I wanted to do it while it was fresh in my head.”
Like his dad before him, Nicholas is attending a private East Coast high school, Philips Academy in Andover, Mass. Faulkner grew up in Anchorage and graduated from Harvard in 1983 with an interest in writing. Along the way, his eclectic life as a hotelier and consumant political observer lent him many experiences for a writing life. But it was his family who inspired these tales.
“As a kid, my dad was constantly trying to fulfill my curiosity about the world,” son Nick said. “At night time, he would tell me the stories to teach me valuable life lessons, though I might not have realized it at the time. They are deep lessons that are kind of hidden. And they stuck with me.”
In “The Ant and the Elephant,” the ant uses the power of its many friends and relatives to pull the large animal out of quicksand.
“It showed me that it’s better to keep your friends close so you can overcome challenges as a group,” Nick said.
In the “Island of Horses,” the friendship between a colt and a young boy shows how “courage and bravery can benefit you,” Nick said.
In the story, the two team up to save a population of horses from starvation, and the boy warns the wild horses from mixing with humans who would exploit or harm them.
Overall, when Nick Faulkner read the published version of the stories, he found the old tales intact.
Illustrator Aurora Firth
“Dad had to make changes to make them grammatically correct,” he said. “But overall, they are the stories he told me as bedtime stories. The details are the same, with only minor changes. I can almost hear his voice in my head as I read them.”
Away at his first year of high school, the ninth grader acknowledges he misses his family a lot and likes having the stories written down.
Faulkner said he had a couple of challenges to overcome as he wrote them.
“I wanted them to be whimsical. They’re meant to be instructive but inspiring, even without the message,” he explained. “Kids’ imaginations, particularly the young, don’t absorb the lessons, per se. They just enjoy the stories.”
According to one adage, the way a truism works is that it’s “simple enough for children, and too complicated for an adult.”
“A lot of times, everything is over-analyzed. The messages to youth should be simple. The messages we often miss are simple,” Faulkner said.
It’s a difficult achievement to avoid sounding preachy when embedding an ethic in a story, but Faulkner achieves it. He passes along concrete advice about effective interactions with others to overcome obstacles.
“The second biggest difficulty was to perfect the moral without hammering it; without being preachy or overt. That’s a difficult thing to do,” Faulkner said. “We don’t really see it too much with literature anymore. There’s a lot of editing of older fables and texts developed in some cases hundreds of years ago. Editors are compiling them and reframing or redeveloping them.”
Modern stories aren’t what you would call an Aesop learning moment. The primary task is to create adventure in children’s stories in order to engage the audience he said.
That Faulkner is a lifelong Alaskan shows up subtly. We have a pioneer in Freddie Frog and a frontier ritual to the importance of a bear hunt to help the spoiled Ankur become a man in “The Ant and the Elephant.” The “Island of Horses” carries a theme of protecting wilderness through preserving the horses on their habitat, rather than making them move to populated places where humans live. But through it all, readers will see that Faulkner’s concern about telling an interesting story comes first.
A partnership with Aurora Firth as illustrator turned out to be a good matching. Firth’s drawings are whimsical, colorful and exacting, without being stiff or contrived. Firth is self-described as a “big sister,” to seven siblings. Home-schooled herself, she now functions as a teacher to her brothers and sisters. She also gives private art lessons.
“I thought it was important that the illustrations be colorful. He gave me a lot of freedom to select what scenes I wanted to illustrate,” Firth said. “I grew to enjoy the stories. Especially Freddie the Frog. It deserved playful illustrations.”
As for the title, “Odysseys from Homer” and its play on Homer’s Odyssey, the stories form a timeless journey. All were devised and recounted from the West Hill Homer home of the Faulkners these past many years.
The book is available at the Homer Bookstore and at Ben Firth’s Studio near Blackwater Bend Coffee. Call 226-2009 for more information.